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BlizzCon 2011: Blizzard DOTA Hands-On Preview

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The MOBA genre has come quite a long way in a relatively short amount of time since Defense of the Ancients became far and away the most popular Warcraft III custom map in history. Since then, a number of stand-alone games have stepped up to vie for the title of DOTA’s successor: Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends, and even Valve’s own effort – the appropriately titled DOTA 2.

So at last BlizzCon, when Blizzard revealed they were working on their own take on the genre with Blizzard DOTA, I was left scratching my head. Did Blizzard really intend to compete with the increasingly crowded MOBA market? And with a custom StarCraft II map?

Now that I’ve had my chance to get my hands on Blizzard DOTA, I can answer that question: No, they don’t – they’re just trying to have some fun. With the ridiculously high learning curve to DOTA-style games acting as a barrier of entry for anyone who doesn’t want to be hit with racial slurs for not memorizing item builds right from the start, Blizzard’s take is a significantly looser and relaxed take on the genre. And it’s a blast.

Hit the break to find out what makes Blizzard DOTA such a surprise hit.

order

The lighthearted nature of Blizzard DOTA is established straight from the get-go. The forces of order and chaos are locked in an eternal and pointless struggle, and the only way to tip the balance is to summon and recruit the mightiest heroes in the multiverse… which all, coincidentally, happen to come from Blizzard games. Weird.

Players start the game by choosing a single hero to control, each divided into one of four distinct categories based on their role. Tanks like the abomination Stitches are designed to take the brunt of enemy attacks, while DPS characters like Kerrigan dole out the pain. Support characters, such as the high templar Tassadar, assist allies with heals and buffs, and characters like Warfield are siege-types built for taking out enemy buildings.

Already, this reduces the barrier of entry for newer players, as they are given a clear indication from the get-go of what their character is designed to do for their team. This facilitates team building and removes ambiguity about how a certain hero should be played without having to study ages of forum posts and character guides.

Eagerly and immediately selecting support hero Uther the Lightbringer (anyone who knows me would not have expected anything else), I took to the top lane with my partner who had chosen the Lich King Arthas himself, a tank. Heading up to face the minions of chaos, master and student rejoined to show them just how we do things in Lordaeron.

Like your typical MOBA game, waves of enemies continually deploy against one another, and its the players’ job to manage their flow, pushing against enemy defensive structures while doing battle directly with enemy champions. Doing well awards you gold which can be used to upgrade your character.

Kerrigan02

In our case, our opponents were the zerg Queen of Blades herself, Kerrigan, and the decorated Terran General Warfield. I’m happy to report that neither psionic blasts or a nasty siege tank were any match for the First Paladin and the unholy might of Frostmourne, and we soon gained the advantage. The delightful thing about Blizzard DOTA is that the characters are all armed with the abilities you know and love: Arthas was Death Gripping enemies to him and locking them in place with Chains of Ice, while I kept him alive with the Holy Light and stunned foes with Hammer of Justice.

Soon we were pressing against towers, and an interesting feature became apparent. Towers have a certain amount of ammunition that regenerates when they’re not shooting. What this mans is that laying siege to turrets is a quicker process, and turtling up next them is a less viable tactic. This makes for an overall quicker game than normal.

Soon, however, in spite of our successes, we found ourselves in trouble as powerful enemies were added to waves and started to overwhelm us. We had been neglecting mercenary camps, neutral NPC enemies between the lanes that, when defeated, bolster the forces of your creep waves.

Luckily, we were able to move quickly from hotspot to hotspot through the use of the mount feature. Each character can hitch a ride on some kind of robotic wolf thing – it takes time to activate but increases your movement speed substantially. It’s only for use out of battle – getting hit while mounted will stun your character momentarily. But it’s a great mechanic for keeping things active and making sure you stay in the thick of things.

The item shop is clean, easy to understand, and uncluttered

One of the more startling departures from traditional MOBA games is the simplified item shop. Rather than an enormous wealth of items and combinations that are ludicrously daunting to a new player –  and a great way for teammates to find an excuse to layer insults upon a newbie – you’ll simply spend gold to upgrade your character in one of three ways: increased damage, survivability, or mana and ability regeneration.

There are other items to purchase, of course, most of them consumables and a few on-use items with unique effects, but the bulk of your character development comes from increasing these core stats. It’s definitely lacking the depth of branching item upgrade tress in something like League of Legends, but that’s kind of the point. The idea is to make a system that’s easily understandable and gets you back in the action as quickly as possible.

Overcoming the legion of mercenary goons, our team organized for a victory push up the middle, where Uther and Arthas were joined by allies as diverse as the Diablo III Witch Doctor and Protoss Dark Templar Zeratul. Cutting down all that stood in our way, we destroyed the stronghold of chaos and took a victory. All told, the game lasted only around 25 minutes, quite a bit faster than other MOBA games tend to last.

Warfield laying down heavy fire

I came away from Blizzard DOTA all smiles and wanting to play more. As someone who has sunk a good deal of time into MOBA games, I expected to be put off by the simplistic nature of Blizzard DOTA. But to my delight, I found the scaled down, fast-paced take on the genre to be pleasantly refreshing. It’s fun, it’s fast, and it’s chock-full of Blizzard fan-service.

The best analogy I can make is this: If traditional DotA is Street Fighter, Blizzard DOTA is Super Smash Bros. It’s quick to get into, easy to play, but has just enough of a competitive edge to be intensely compelling. It’s something I can definitely see myself playing for a quick burst of fun, and would be an excellent introduction for those put off by the intense learning curve of other titles in the genre.

Blizzard DOTA will be launched as a custom map for StarCraft II sometime soon… ish. We can look forward to a beta sometime in the coming months.

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